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Combating gender-based violence (GBV) among Urban Refugees in Malaysia

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Gender Based Violence (GBV) takes many forms, including physical, verbal, and sexual abuse as well as deprivation techniques (financial, legal, psychological) designed to control and disempower the victims. The perpetrators can be spouses, parents, siblings, and members of the refugee community, employers, or authority figures, such as police or soldiers.

The threat of GBV towards women and children is heightened significantly among refugee populations living in urban settings. In Malaysia, refugee women are often confronted with culturally accepted gender roles that encourage inequality and submission to men. Extreme poverty forces many of the 92,000 urban, largely Burmese, refugees who reside in Kuala Lumpur, to live in squalid, overcrowded apartments, with men, women and children all living in close quarters. The situation is exacerbated further by the irregular status of refugees; the children are not permitted to attend public schools, and their parents are not legally allowed to work. Victims are reluctant to come forward for a variety of cultural, financial and legal reasons.

ICMC is working in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) and local NGOs including, the Pusat Kebajikan Good Shepherd Sisters (PKGS), the Women’s Aid Organization (WAO) and Protect and Save (P.S.) The Children to prevent and combat GBV and to offer emergency protection and assistance to GBV survivors.

ICMC’s efforts to support urban refugees in Kuala Lumpur are four-fold:

Creation of a Refugee Women’s Protection Corps ICMC has formed a Refugee Women’s Protection Corps, made up of women from numerous Burmese ethnic groups within the refugee communities. Awareness on issues and services is better received, trusted, understood and acted upon when delivered to refugees by members of their own community. This grassroots approach aims to ensure that refugee communities will be better able to (1) prevent and reduce GBV, (2) increase reporting of GBV, and (3) initiate a service response for victims.

Provision of increased shelter capacity and emergency health care for survivors of GBV Refugee women and children who are survivors of GBV can seek emergency accommodation, protection and care at shelters and they are also offered access to medical care and counseling.

Child abuse training for refugee children, teachers and parents ICMC and NGO partners are conducting child protection trainings at refugee community schools and refugee youth organizations across Kuala Lumpur. The curriculum seeks to increase understanding of all forms of child abuse, teaching them about their rights and how to protect themselves.

Coordination with UNHCR on referral mechanisms, shelter criteria, and community based solutions ICMC staff coordinates closely with UNHCR, working together with the Protection, Best Interest Determination (BID) for children, Community Services and Health Units on GBV referrals. In addition, ICMC participates on the shelter committee, helping to identify gaps and service needs.

Funded through a grant from the US Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BPRM), these activities provide insight into the challenges faced by refugees in Kuala Lumpur and contribute to a proactive move towards expanding the protection space available to refugees in urban areas, in particular, for women and children.